Monday, April 12, 2010

Game Review: Retro Game Challenge

846059-retro_game_challenge_ds_us_large Boivin told us a few hours ago that “something suddenly came up,” so instead of fanboy vitriol about which elements of the Spider Man timeline he considers canonical, you’ll be reading about a video game this evening. I hope that is okay!

Young men (and ladies I guess?) of a certain age and disposition all have a soft spot in their hearts for the old, simple video games of yore. Nostalgia for blocky adventures in the second dimension are what keeps games like New Super Mario Bros. Wii and Mega Man 10 on the shelves even though they have technically been superseded by newer, flashier styles of play.

This nostalgia is at the core of indieszero, Namco Bandai, and Xseed Games’ Retro Game Challenge, a Nintendo DS game with roots in a Japanese game show by the name of Game Center CX.

While the game certainly does pander to anyone who cut his (or her?) teeth on the Nintendo Entertainment System, it actually manages to serve up some pretty good old-style gameplay that pays homage to the past while still bringing something new to these time-tested genres.

Game Center CX follows Shinya Arino, an employee at a fictitious company who is tasked with completing certain objectives in real retro video games. Think Nick Arcade, but without the green screens or the dumbass kids who couldn’t play ActRaiser to save their lives.

This basic format is how Retro Game Challenge is presented to the player, and the presentation is honestly one of the best parts of this game. You’re sent back in time to the 1980s by Game Master Arino, and you must complete four objectives in each game before moving on to the next one. At that point, you pick up a “freeplay” mode that allows you to explore the games to your heart’s content.

retro_game_challenge_haggle_man These games, while fictitious, are lovingly presented as the real thing, complete with cover art and instruction manuals to page through - there’s even a fake gaming magazine filled with coverage and cheat codes to help you out. A young Arino acts as your wingman, chatting with you, giving you advice, yawning when you poke around in the game menus and cheering when you execute a particularly impressive maneuver.

This, everyone, is exactly how actual retro game compilations should be presented. Instead, we get half a dozen shitty ports of obscure Sonic the Hedgehog games glued together by a menu that borders on punishing, along with maybe some character concept art or some other such gratuitous Easter egg. Yes I am looking right at you, every Mega Man compilation ever made.

The presentation really sells Retro Game Challenge, but if the games-within-a-game weren’t any fun to play we’d be stuck with all video and no game. Thankfully, the experiences here are good-to-excellent – at worst (racer Rally King), the games are entertaining enough for the duration of Arino’s challenges. At best (Dragon Quest-style RPG Guadia Quest, top down shooter Star Prince, the Castlevania-esque stylings of Robot Ninja Haggle Man 3) you’ll be coming back to spend some substantial time with the game’s freeplay mode. There’s plenty of fun to be had here.

Retro Game Challenge is one of those small, quirky games for which the DS will be remembered. Unfortunately, unlike the Ace Attorney or Professor Layton series, this game has not sold well enough in the States to warrant a North American release for its sequel. Given how uniformly excellent this game is, that’s sad news, but there’s still nothing keeping you from picking up this one and enjoying the hell out of it. It’s $20. Surely you can invent an excuse to treat yourself.